Speaking from the story perspective, _Love_&_Sex_ doesn't cover
much of anything that hadn't already been addressed in other romantic
comedies. But at the center of writer-director Valerie Breiman's
Sundance crowdpleaser are the special qualities that would make the most
familiar scenario completely fresh: a breakthrough performance by star
Famke Janssen; and sparkling chemistry with her leading man, Jon Favreau.
Janssen, most widely known for the empowered female types she's
played in films such as _X-Men_ and especially _GoldenEye_, is a
revelation as Kate Wells, magazine writer and perpetual screw-up in the
ways of romance. In a role that for once neither relies on her imposing
physicality nor stunning beauty, Janssen reveals a beguiling
vulnerability and wonderful comic flair as Kate revisits her romantic and
sexual misadventures while attempting to write an article about finding
the perfect man--a subject that could not be more foreign to her. Nearly
every one of Kate's stabs at romance has ended in disaster, from her
first crush in elementary school to a fling with a married man, with an
ill-advised dalliance with her high school French teacher taking place
somewhere in between.
But there was one man who could have very well been "it"--Adam
Levy (Favreau), an artist with whom Kate has had her most rewarding and
least dysfunctional relationship. Favreau, who was most recently
stripped of his innate likability as a one-dimensional tough guy in
_The_Replacements_, reminds why his big splash, _Swingers_, remains an
indie fave nearly four years after its initial release. Sporting an
unruly haircut with scruffy sideburns and often wearing paint-stained
casual wear, his Adam certainly doesn't look like a typical movie leading
man--but Favreau's portrayal nails down harder-to-achieve allure: low-key
confidence and a down-to-earth, playful sense of humor.
That latter area is where Kate and Adam, Janssen and Favreau, and
Breiman and the audience really connect. There is a sense of fun when
these two are together, and not the artificially sunny type of movie
happiness; just as doing a typically awkward striptease in front of a
camcorder is good for a laugh, so are more grounded moments like pointing
out each other's physical flaws; nonchalantly doing what would normally
be embarrassing in the comfort of bed; and coming up with knowingly dumb
yet intimately special terms like "I cheese sandwich you."
But as the film reveals from the beginning, this relationship
turns sour as well, and here Breiman also runs into some trouble.
Numerous situations come out of the school of sitcom contrivance, such as
Kate and Adam trying to make each other jealous by fawning over others;
and an all-too-coincidental bump-in between Kate, Adam, and his new
girlfriend at a movie theatre.
Those are just the most familiar moments in _Love_&_Sex_, which
indeed takes a few more steps on a well-worn cinematic path. However,
the success of films like these is largely dependent on the stars, and
with Favreau and especially Janssen--who should find a host of even more
varied acting opportunities open to her after this--striking real sparks,
_Love_&_Sex_ is an engaging and satisfying love story that deserves to
break out of the arthouse pack.